The 12 Best Standalone Fantasy Novels if You’re Looking For a Quick Adventure
Epic fantasy series are great. But sometimes you don’t want to commit to three or more novels! Sometimes you’re just looking for a quick read, or a story that stands on its own.
If that’s the case, then look no further. Here are 12 of our favorite standalone fantasy novels. Some of them have sequels, and others are even part of trilogies, but all of them are self-contained stories.
The Beginning Place by Ursula K. Le Guin
Although Ursula K. le Guin is known primarily for her Earthsea series, she’s written many wonderful standalone novels, too. In The Beginning Place, Hugh finds a portal leading to the magical land of Tembreabreazi. There, he meets a fellow traveler named Irene, and together they’re entrusted with a quest that no one else can undertake. This novel is a breezy yet moving story of love and magic.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple living in Britain in the wake of King Arthur’s adventures, decide to go visit their son. However, a strange mist covering the land has caused mass amnesia, so they have no idea who their son is or what he looks like. Thus begins a strange odyssey, filled with poignant reflections on memory, heroism, and love.
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
Although Daughter of the Forest is technically the first novel in a trilogy, each book focuses on a different set of characters, so there’s very little connection between them. A retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Wild Swans,” Daughter of the Forest tells the story of Sorcha, a girl living in medieval Ireland. When Sorcha’s stepmother puts a curse on her family, Sorcha must retreat to the forest to work the magic that will free them. This book is a sumptuous tapestry filled with fairies, magic, and Irish legend.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
Yetu, a mermaid living in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, is entrusted with a painful role: she’s her people’s Historian, in charge of remembering their pregnant ancestors who were thrown overboard from slave ships long ago. When the horrific memories become too much for Yetu to bear, she flees to the surface—and discovers a new way forward for her people. The Deep is a heartbreaking allegory of grief, injustice, and healing.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Would any fantasy list be complete without Good Omens? The angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley have spent the last few millennia on Earth, and when the time comes to prepare for Judgement Day, they decide they like it too much to let it all go up in flames. The inspiration for the Prime Video adaptation starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant, Good Omens is a masterpiece of diabolical humor.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
If you haven’t read this classic novel yet, now’s the time. In Kindred, Dana, a writer living in modern day Los Angeles, is suddenly pulled through time and space to the home of her enslaved ancestors. There, she gradually learns that her visits have a terrible purpose: to save the life of a white slaveowner named Rufus, whose survival is necessary for Dana’s existence. Only Octavia Butler could weave together a gripping story like this one. Some readers might argue that it’s science fiction instead of fantasy, but the point is, it’s great.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
The inspiration for the classic animated movie, Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn tells the story of a unicorn who finds out that she’s the only one of her kind left in the world. Teaming up with the hapless Schmendrick the Magician and the jaded but warm-hearted Molly Grue, the unicorn travels far and wide to find out where her people have gone. This short novel is equal parts adventure, comedy, and heartbreak.
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
As perhaps the penultimate modern Arthurian story, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King brought a touch of humanity to the classic legend. Unlike other Arthurian renditions, White gave each major character a set of realistic flaws and desires, all with a humorous, clever narrative tone. What also makes The Once and Future King notable is its heavy anti-war themes and sensibilities, as it was written and published following the second world war.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races is the sort of fantastic novel that you wish would get adapted, but you know that any adaptation would fail to properly capture its magic. Inspired heavily by Celtic folklore, the story takes place on the fictional isle of Thisby, where carnivorous, dangerous capaill uisces (a.k.a. water horses) dwell. Each November, riders attempt to tame one of these horses, and win the infamous Scorpio Races with them. But whether they emerge dead or alive is never guaranteed.
Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
When young Henry Silver arrives to take his place as the new owner of Greenhollow Hall, he’s surprised to find that the local legends are true: there’s a 400-year-old wild man living in the woods. However, gruff but gentle Tobias isn’t at all what Henry expected. Thus begins a sweet, delicate romance steeped in myth and folklore. The sequel, Drowned Country, is also worth checking out, but Silver in the Wood is perfect on its own.
Spear by Nicola Griffith
Spear, written by the author of the beloved historical novel Hild, is a queer retelling of the Arthurian legend of Percival, one of the knights of the Round Table. Peretur, a girl living in the wilderness with her mother, decides to travel to Camelot to pledge her service to Artos, king of Caer Leon. As she sets out to prove herself as a warrior, she encounters magic, bloodshed, and no end of adventure. Come for Nicola Griffith’s rich and lyrical prose, stay for a character you’ll fall in love with.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is based on Polish folklore, inspired by stories the author heard while growing up. It follows the tale of Agnieszka, a fledgling witch who hones her powers under the tutelage of The Dragon, a brusque wizard who holds dominion over her village in return for protective services. The magic in this series is wild and natural, abiding by a chaotic principle that’s incredibly interesting to read about. Agnieszka herself is a fantastic protagonist, one who you really see grow over the course of the novel, from an insecure, easily frightened girl into a powerful, confident young woman.
(featured image: Saga Press)
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]